At the close of December, I finished one of the best books I've read all year: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. I picked up this book because I had heard it was an unbelievable survival story, as well as one of the best-reviewed nonfiction books of the year.
Louis Zamperini, an Italian-American Olympic runner turned U.S. airman in World War II's Pacific theater, endures countless debilitating catastrophes and attacks on his mind, body and soul. Any one of these events would kill an ordinary person.
First off, Zamperini, on an air run in a shaky, dilapidated plane, crashes into the Pacific Ocean. He survives with only two other airmen from his crew. They endure at sea for 47 days with nothing to eat but a few bites of chocolate and whatever they can catch and eat raw, and nothing to drink except a small amount of stowed-away water and rain. It seems impossible that two of the three survive, drifting thousands of miles across shark-infested ocean, enduring strafing Japanese bombers, until they finally drift onto dry land...only to be captured and placed in a concentration camp.
When he is captured, Zamperini is already wasting away from hunger and thirst, but his troubles are only beginning. Hillenbrand documents the long-term abuse that Zamperini suffers under a sadistic prison guard known as "The Bird." Despite the horrifying situation into which he was placed, however, somehow Louis is still able to keep going, enduring hunger, beatings, torture, emotional distress, illness.
Yet, what really breaks this "Unbroken" man is his rescue and return home. Once the years of stress, abuse, and deprivation are over, he finds his mind fighting against him. Louis suffers from PTSD and alcohol abuse. He marries impulsively and it is a disaster. He can't seem to pull his life together. He is a broken man at last.
This is where Zamperini's story takes an unexpected (for me) turn to faith. Because I did not know, prior to reading this book, that his healing was to come through conversion to faith in Christ, the full impact of that healing hit me powerfully. I was brought to tears. This man who had endured so much, only to be broken psychologically, was put back together again in Christ.
This was the most spiritually significant story that I have read in years, particularly from a secular publisher. I found myself wondering if God allowed Zamperini to endure so many trials in order to draw a stubborn man to faith. God has unusual ways of wooing us at times.
This book starts off a bit slow, particularly for those without technical knowledge related to airplanes and other elements of warfare. However, it quickly turns into an intensely riveting personal story. Although I enjoy reading history books for personal enrichment, I often find myself taking a long time to finish them. This book was the exception. I read it fast, unable to put it down. Highly recommended.